Lloyd Evans

PMQs: Johnson jabs at Starmer’s Covid queries

PMQs: Johnson jabs at Starmer's Covid queries
(Photo by Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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That was risky. The PM came to the House for today’s session with nothing at all in his briefing folder. Not a fact. Not a statistic. Not a single detail to rebuff his opponents. Usually he tosses out figures in all directions to create the impression of authority and control. Today he had nothing more than a little speech of thanks for Pfizer’s Covid jab which has just got the OK from the regulatory boffins.

‘I would like to thank all those who have made this possible,’ he said, like a tearful starlet clutching a Golden Globe.

Sir Keir Starmer echoed his delight. ‘Fantastic news,’ he gushed. Then he treated the House to some mental arithmetic. There are 800,000 jabs ready to go, he said, and each patient needs a double dose. So it follows that 400,000 people can be vaccinated immediately. MPs were so stunned by his computational wizardry that they missed the thrust of the question.

Where will the mass-jabbings begin?

Boris fluffed his way through a recitation of vulnerable categories. The first people to be jacked up with the magic serum will be care home inmates over 80 years old. Then those over 75. Then those over 70, and so on. He added some guff about the importance of his beloved tiering system.

This wasn’t just vague, it was woollier than a mammoth in a knitted tank-top. But Sir Keir declined to go on the attack. Instead he politely asked when the first two groups of injectees would be inoculated.

‘It’s very important,’ said Boris, ducking and diving, ‘that people do not get their hopes up too soon about the speed at which we will be able to roll out the programme.’

Even as a diversionary tactic this sounded useless. But it worked. Starmer was completely stymied. Both leaders knew it. The teeniest peep of criticism from Labour would result in swift and terrible retribution. Boris would pillory Sir Keir as a dim-witted, Britain-bashing, science-hating, anti-vaxxing saboteur hellbent on exposing millions to an agonising early death from the cursed lung-bug. No thanks, thought Sir Keir. I’ll sit this one out.

Instead he decided to give free speech a kicking. Referring to ‘dangerous and life-threatening disinformation,’ he boasted that his party had already called for fines to be imposed on those who question the white coats currently running the government. He even called for ‘emergency legislation... which the whole House would support.’

He seems unaware that robust science welcomes sceptics and challengers. Only a feeble or false theorem needs to be defended by threats of police action.

But Sir Keir hadn’t finished. Having promised to silence the country, he moved on to parliament whose members must also accept the yoke of censorship. ‘Once the government has a communications plan for the vaccine will [the PM] share it with the House so we can all say the same thing at the same time?’

You read that correctly. The leader of the opposition was begging to be the Prime Minister's sock puppet. He openly embraced the prospect of spouting a list of edicts issued by No. 10. Worse still, he co-opted the autonomy of his MPs and swore that they too would parrot the Tories’ creed. Vladimir Putin can only dream of such control-freakery.

Boris finished with a quip about Sir Keir’s failure to show up last night to vote on the new beefed-up tier system.

‘Captain Hindsight is rising rapidly up the ranks and becoming General Indecision.’

Not a bad day at the comedy club. The star turn got through a 30 minute set with just one gag.

Written byLloyd Evans

Lloyd Evans is The Spectator's sketch-writer and theatre critic

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